Cognac is often thought of as the ultimate brandy, a premium spirit with a history of being associated with luxury and wealth. It takes a long time to make a good cognac, as it develops distinctive and delectable flavors through a long aging process. Cognac is made from grapes but, unlike wine, which continues to age after being bottled, the flavors of cognac stop developing just as soon as it is bottled.
Cognac has been made since around 1620 in a specific geographic region in France. Simply put, it is made from white grapes fermented into a thin, acidic wine, distilled in copper pots and aged. Nuances in quality and flavor come from the type of grape used, the soil and climate they were grown in, the type of oak used to make the barrel, time spent aging and any sugars and flavors added before bottling.
Aging for Flavor
After distillation, cognac is aged for a predetermined period of time in new French oak barrels. The liquid slowly permeates the oak, which releases various flavors like oak, clove and vanilla along with tannins, sugars and even smoke essences. The longer a cognac is aged, the more these flavors deepen and ripen; some of the oldest cognacs even develop a blue cheese aroma. Aging is completely dependent on this time spent in the barrels, and the process is halted once the cognac is bottled.
Grades of Cognac
Cognac is labeled based on the minimum amount of time it is aged. The youngest cognac is labeled V.S., or Very Special, aged for a minimum of 30 months before bottling. V.S.O.P., or Very Superior Old Pale, also called Reserve, remained in the aging process for a minimum of 4 1/2 years. The highest end cognacs are X.O., also called Napoleon, and are aged for a minimum of 6 years. In reality, each grade is generally aged much longer, with the average age of X.O. at 20 years.
Preserving Cognac's Quality
Although they don't continue to age, unopened bottles of cognac will keep indefinitely as long as they are stored properly: standing upright, out of direct sunlight and at room temperature. Bright light and both high and low temperatures can cause the cognac to turn.
Store opened bottles of cognac the same way, and they will keep for a year.
- On Food and Cooking; Harold McGee
- Courvoisier: FAQ's
- SFGate.com: Drink Cognac Like the French; Gary Regan
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